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2017 International CRAG “Severo Ochoa” PhD Program

Severo OchoaThe International “Severo Ochoa” PhD Program of the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) is advertising four PhD positions for 2018. This is a four-year program beginning in early 2018. Doctoral students enrolled in this program will obtain their PhD Degree from either the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) or the University of Barcelona (UB). More information about the doctoral program at CRAG can be found here:  http://www.cragenomica.es/crag-phd-program

Ministerio de Economia y CompetitividadIf interested in applying to the International CRAG “Severo Ochoa” PhD Program, please carefully read the Application requirements and procedure and check out all available projects.

Application deadline is Friday March 30, 2017. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed during spring 2017. Successful applicants will start their PhD projects in early 2018.

This four-year PhD grant is funded by the “National Programme for the Promotion of Talent and its Employability 2016” from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

Application requirements and procedure


1. The program is aimed at international students who have completed one of the following options by September 2017:

  • studies that lead to an official Spanish (or from another country of the European Higher Education Area) university degree in Biology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, or related areas and that have 300 credits (ECTS), of which at least 60 must correspond to master level.
  • a degree in a non-Spanish university not adapted to the European Higher Education Area that gives access to doctoral studies in Biology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology or related areas.

2. Candidates are selected exclusively on merit, on the basis of their curriculum. Academic grades and the curriculum of applicants are evaluated, as well as reference letters and a motivation letter. No selection criteria for positive or negative discrimination are applied.

3. Applicants should have obtained a degree after January 2014.

4. Candidates cannot be in possession a PhD Degree.

5. Candidates cannot have been hired as predoctoral students for more than 12 months before the start of the CRAG “Severo Ochoa” PhD Program.

6. Candidates cannot have started a pre-doctoral fellowship funded by the Spanish “Plan Estatal de Investigación, Desarrollo e Innovación Tecnológica” or any previous “Plan Nacional”.

How to apply

Applicants should complete and submit the on-line application through CRAGjobs.

Applicants will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • Curriculum vitae
  • A motivation letter, including a brief summary of work experience and a statement of research interests and career goals (2 pages maximum).
  • A scanned copy of the student’s certified Academic Record, including a detailed record of study / transcript (a list of attended courses and corresponding grades): these documents must show the grades attained in exam periods.
  • Copy of passport (international applicants only).
  • Any additional files considered relevant to the application, but please only provide documents that are important to support it. Do not overload the application with certificates and documents of lesser significance.

In addition, applicants must ensure the submission of two reference letters from university lecturers or scientists with whom the applicant has studied or worked. Letters should be sent directly by the referees to PhDprogramatcragenomica.es (PhDprogramatcragenomica.es), and should also be received by the application deadline, March 30, 2017.  Only letters with official letterhead and signature will be accepted. Candidates are responsible for ensuring that referees submit these letters, and should consider that referees may need some time to prepare and send their letters within the deadline. Applications without reference letters will not be considered.

Please download referee request.

The doctoral program is in English. Therefore, a good knowledge of English is absolutely required. We encourage candidates to support the application with scores of internationally valid language exams like TOEFL or other tests. However, they are not mandatory: a verifiable education in English, or a reasonably long stay in an English speaking country are also convincing.

In the motivation letter, applicants should indicate up to two research projects in which they would like to work, in order of preference (see Available Projects, below). Moreover, if candidates have a particular interest in any one of these projects, they should also indicate it. More information on the research activities of each group can be found at CRAG website.

Applicants must submit information in English (CV, and motivation letter including summary of work experience). If the certified academic records are not in English, Catalan or Spanish, applicants must also attach a translation in one of these languages.

Applicants must upload all the required documents as PDF files of less than 10MB.

Please note that we can only consider applications that are complete.

Selection procedure

Applications will be reviewed through a selection process involving CRAG group leaders, including the Principal Investigators that will host the fellows. Students are preselected according to their written application, grades, and reference letters.

Short-listed candidates will be interviewed during spring 2017. Candidates who are accepted for the program will be notified by email shortly after the interview period. These PhD positions are funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) and CRAG.  CRAG will assist the selected candidates to submit the required documents at the Spanish MINECO website in summer 2017. Applicants who have not been successful but have received a positive evaluation will be put on a waiting list to cover possible renunciations and future positions.

Available Projects

2017 CRAG SO – 1: ChromoPlant - Coloring plants for a healthier diet

Principal Investigator: Manuel Rodríguez-Concepción

Enriching the diet in health-promoting nutrients is becoming a necessity even in developed countries, where the diet of a significant part of the population is not diverse enough. Carotenoids are one of the main groups of plant-produced metabolites with a positive impact in human and animal health. Dietary carotenoids function as pro-vitamin A an offer protection against some types of cancer, coronary heart disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, and sunburn. These health benefits increase when carotenoids are taken in the food rather than as dietary supplements. Therefore, enriching carotenoid contents of edible plant tissues by biotechnological approaches should strongly contribute to a healthier diet. Plants synthesize and store carotenoids in plastids. In chloroplasts, carotenoids are essential to protect photosynthetic complexes against photooxidative damage. However, carotenoids accumulate at highest levels in chromoplasts, specialized non-photosynthetic plastids typically found in flowers and fruits. The factors controlling chromoplast differentiation remain little known. We have recently developed a method to trigger the differentiation of chloroplasts into chromoplasts in leaves. The first goal of ChromoPlant is to apply this method to identify genes controlling chromoplast differentiation in Arabidopsis thaliana (a model plant that does not naturally contain chromoplasts). Then, the potential of these genes to create carotenoid-enriched plastids will be tested in plants with edible leaves. In the last step of the project, the functional food value of the engineered leaves will be investigated in collaboration with our partners of the Spanish and European carotenoid networks with expertise in food quality and nutrition.

2017 CRAG SO – 2: TEM gene network in intra-species adaptation and inter-species evolution

Principal Investigator: Soraya Pelaz

Floral induction is probably the most important process in plant development since it leads to the formation of the reproductive structures. Even in inductive conditions flowering must be postponed until the plant obtains enough reserves for flower formation. We identified the TEMPRANILLO1 (TEM1) and TEM2 genes as key repressors of flowering. Our results involve TEM genes in the genetic networks that control flowering time in response to photoperiod, low ambient temperature, GA accumulation, and the plant age. In addition, we have found that TEMs also regulate signaling by other hormones such as abscisic acid (ABA). The main function of ABA seems to be the regulation of plant water balance and osmotic stress tolerance. Under drought or salt stresses, ABA deficient mutants show early flowering, poor growth, desiccation and even die. All these functions make TEM genes excellent candidates for evolutionary studies in the acquisition of fundamental developmental programs and in environmental species adaptation. The main goal of this project is to uncover if the TEM gene network is evolutionarily conserved along the green tree of life and its involvement in adaptive responses to drought and salinity in rice fields. For that we collaborate with experts in the field, Michael Purugganan (New York University Dean for Science) and Barbara Ambrose (Associate Curator at NYBG).  

2017 CRAG SO – 3: Genetic dissection of eth8, a QTL involved in climacteric fruit ripening in melon

Principal Investigator: Jordi Garcia-Mas

The availability of genetic and genomic resources in melon, including the genome sequence1, provides tools for the identification of genes involved in important agronomic traits. Fruit ripening is a complex biological process with commercial importance and melon has emerged as an interesting crop model to study fruit ripening, since both climacteric (e.g. cantalupensis types) and non-climacteric (e.g. inodorus types) genotypes coexist. Our group has reported that the SC3-5-1 line, a near isogenic line (NIL) from the Piel de Sapo (PS) x PI 161375 NIL population, shows climacteric ripening despite both parents being non-climacteric2. We identified two QTL in SC3-5-1, eth6.3 and eth3.5, which are involved in the regulation of climacteric ripening3. We already identified the gene underlying eth6.34 and are progressing towards the cloning of eth3.5. In a new RIL population derived from PS (non-climacteric) x Védrantais (climacteric) we have recently identified a new major QTL contributing to climacteric ripening in chromosome 8, eth8, plus additional minor QTLs, supporting the polygenic control of this trait5. Based on our previous results, this PhD project proposes to progress our understanding on the genetic control of climacteric fruit ripening by i) characterising the identity of eth8 and ii) studying the interactions between eth8 and the previously identified eth3.5 and eth6.3 QTLs. This PhD project is multidisciplinary and involves the integration of several approaches including genetics, genomics, physiology and bioinformatics.

References: ¹Garcia-Mas et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 109, 11872 (2012); ²Moreno et al. Theor.Appl. Genet. 116, 589 (2008); ³Vegas et al. Theor. Appl. Genet. 126, 1531 (2013); ⁴Ríos et al. manuscript in preparation; 5Pereira et al. unpublished results of the host group.

2017 CRAG SO – 4: Sumoylation at the crosstalk between development and defense response

Principal Investigator: Maria Coca & Maria Lois

This research project addresses a cutting-edge scientific and societal challenge by aiming to better understand the mechanisms coordinating development and defense responses against fungal pathogens in plants. Fungal infections pose a severe threat to human health and food security by destroying major crops globally, and contaminating food and feed through the production of mycotoxins that are detrimental to human health.

Plants have developed sophisticated mechanisms to cope with fungal attacks by activating energetically costly defense responses that reduce growth and yield. Complex networks regulated by plant hormones mediate trade-offs between development and defense. In addition to transcriptional regulation, post-translational modifications are emerging as key regulators of plant defense responses. Specifically, we have shown that conjugation of SUMO (Small Ubiquitin-like MOdifier) to proteins is necessary for plant resistance to fungal attack. Protein SUMOylation is also known to regulate plant growth and development.

This project aims to evaluate the role of SUMO conjugation in the coordination of plant development and defense responses. To address this general objective, the SUMOylome, as well as the regulatory networks during plant defense responses will be characterized. The recruited PhD student will be trained in a vast array of biological and technological concepts, by applying a variety of biochemical, molecular and cell biology approaches, and bioinformatics for data mining and structural analysis. After the training period, the student is expected to develop the communication skills to present his/her results in front of an international scientific forum and the technical and intellectual skills to become an independent scientist.